2015/2016 IBSF World Cup Season Preview

Steven Holcomb (USA)

From the Home Office in Durham, NC

As we try to do every year, here’s a brief (okay, so not that brief) preview of the 2015/2016 IBSF World Cup season.

Women’s Skeleton
Current World Cup Champion: Janine Flock (AUT)
Current World Champion: Lizzy Yarnold** (GBR)
Current Olympic Champion: Lizzy Yarnold** (GBR)
**Taking 2015/2016 season off

There will be a new world champion at the end of the 2015/2016 IBSF women’s skeleton campaign, as reigning world champion (and Olympic champion) Lizzy Yarnold has chosen to sit this year out.  Couple that with World Cup champion Janine Flock suffering an injury during off-season training, and the season is wide open for any number of athletes.  While Flock will be back for the full 2015/2016 season, she will have a strong field to contend with, even with Yarnold on the sidelines.

Janine Flock (AUT)
Janine Flock (AUT)

Looking to fill the void left by the World Champion will be Great Britain’s Laura Deas, who finished well within the Top 10 in the overall IBSF rankings last season.  She’ll be joined by teammate Donna Creighton, who added an Intercontinental Cup season title to her trophy case last season.

Germany looks to continue their comeback after a dismal Olympic year two seasons ago.  Boosted by a silver medal in World Championships last season, Jacqueline Lölling looks to lead a strong German team alongside World Cup third place finisher Tina Hermann, as well as Sophia Griebel.  The Swiss will once again feature Marina Gilardoni, as she looks to build on her eighth place overall ranking last season.

North America will have one the younger sets of teams on the World Cup circuit. After a strong showing in 2014/2015, Canadians Elisabeth Vathje and Jane Channell both look to solidify their spots among the top tier of IBSF sliders. The United States will once again see Annie O’Shea on their World Cup squad, joined this year by World Cup rookie Kendall Wesenberg, who took the European Cup by storm last season, winning the overall EC title for the US.

Russia will be another country leaning on youth, as it brings Maria Orlova as its senior member at a ripe 27 years old.  She will be joined by Elena Nikitina and Yulia Kanakina, the latter of whom made her World Cup debut in a handful of races last season.

Men’s Skeleton
Current World Cup Champion: Martins Dukurs (LAT)
Current World Champion: Martins Dukurs (LAT)
Current Olympic Champion: Alexander Tretiakov (RUS)

Let’s be honest: If your name rhymes with “ukurs”, and you slide for Latvia, you’ve got a solid chance of having a good World Cup season. Martins Dukurs once again looks to stand atop the men’s skeleton world, and once again will have to look no further than his brother Tomass for inspiration. The elder of the Dukurs brothers will look to unseat his younger brother this season after yet another season finishing just behind Martins.

Like their women’s skeleton counterparts, the German men are looking to make their mark with a young group of talented sliders. Axel Jungk will lead the way, not only as a top-three finisher on the World Cup circuit, but as the oldest slider for Germany’s men, at the ripe age of 24.  Christopher Grotheer and Michael Zachrau will join him, with Grotheer looking to build on a top-ten overall finish last year.

The United States will once again be led by the talented Matt Antoine, who continues to get better after a knee injury a few years back.

Matt Antoine
Matt Antoine (USA)

After a World Cup gold medal, an Olympic bronze and continued consistency, Antoine looks to improve on his fourth-place overall finish.  He’ll be joined by Nathan Crumpton, who will make his first-ever World Cup start this season in Germany.  Just above the border, Canada will once again see Dave Greszczyszyn both dominate my keyboard’s lower row of keys and improve on an already-impressive ninth place overall finish last season. Barrett Martineau will be Canada’s second men’s pilot, looking to improve on his 2014/2015 season.

There’ll be three familiar faces for Great Britain this winter, with Dom Parsons looking to improve yet again, after an impressive 2014/2015 campaign that saw him miss the podium on two separate occasions. Ed Smith will look to have a triumphant comeback from a dismal season last year, where Smith battled not only the best sliders in the world, but also a brutal leg injury that left him unable to start like he needed to.  David Swift will take the third men’s World Cup spot for Great Britain, having made a handful of World Cup starts in the previous two seasons.

If he chooses to run the full World Cup season this year, Alexander Tretiakov looks to be solid competition for the Dukurs brothers. The Russian Rocket has gone from just a big pusher to a reliable skeleton pilot, and is competitive anywhere the World Cup now goes.  He’ll be joined by Nikita Tregubov and Pavel Kulikov, the latter of whom has been a terror on the regional circuits, and looks to continue that full-time on the World Cup this year.

Sungbin Yun will look to improve on an already successful career, having scored a handful of medals last year on his way to the 2018 on his home soil in Korea.  Yun stepped into the spotlight last season with a series of solid runs, capped by a second place finish in St. Moritz. If he continues to improve, this could be the season where Yun stikes World Cup gold.

Women’s Bobsled
Current World Cup Champion: Elana Meyers Taylor (USA)
Current World Champion: Elana Meyers Taylor (USA)
Current Olympic Champion: Kaillie Humphries (CAN)

As it stands, the nation to beat right now in women’s bobsled is the United States. The USA will bring three sleds to the World Cup, two of which are piloted by Olympic medalists Elana Meyers Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser, with the third being piloted by World Cup newcomer Nicole Vogt.  During the 2014/2015 season, Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser accounted for 6 of 8 World Cup gold medals and a stunning 46% of all medals won over the course of the season.  The USA will lose, however, the talent of Jazmine Fenlator, who has opted to slide for Jamaica in the coming years for a myriad of reasons. Her paperwork was not turned in on time for the start coming season, however, and she won’t be able to take part in the opening races in Germany.

Despite what seemed like a relatively lackluster effort by the German women last season, they did go on to pile up behind Meyers Taylor in World Championships. This year’s German World Cup team will be led by veteran Anja Schneiderheinze. Schneiderheinze scored one gold medal and four podiums overall for Germany.  She’ll be joined by Sandra Kroll in Germany II. Kroll finished second in Junior World Championships last season, and scored one gold medal in European Cup action (Winterberg).

As always, Canadian Kaillie Humphries will be right there in the medal hunt, as well.  Last season, while not a bad one by most people’s standards, was an off year for the Olympic champion. Despite four podium finishes and a second-place World Cup finish, it was the first

Kaillie Humphries (CAN)
Kaillie Humphries (CAN)

time Humphries went without a gold medal since her 2010/2011 campaign. Look for Humphries to come back strong this season.

Much like Sungbin Yun in skeleton, Elfje Willemsen is knocking on the door of a gold medal and could be a woman to beat in the coming season. The pilot from Belgium scored two second-place finishes, and was in the top-six all but twice during the 2014/2015 season, finishing fourth overall.  Great Britain will field one sled in women’s bobsled, and that will be piloted by Mica McNeill. McNeill has continually improved over the last few seasons, and looks to make a splash on the World Cup circuit this season.

Two-Man Bobsled
Current World Cup Champion: Oskars Melbardis (LAT)
Current World Champion: Francesco Friedrich (GER)
Current Olympic Champion: Alexandr Zubkov* (RUS)

There was a time when Oskars Melbardis was the guy with the huge pushes and bumpy trips down the ice that led you to think “Man, if he could straighten that out, he’ll be big”. Those days are gone, and the big Latvian is now solid on almost any track you put him on. In that, he took the overall points championship last season, ahead of a brutally tough field of sleds. There’s not a lot of change for the Latvians, with both Melbardis and Oskars Kibermanis at the helm for what could amount to another big season for Latvia.

Another two-sled team that looks to be in the medals all season long is the Swiss team led by longtime pilot Beat Hefti. Rico Peter, however, came into his own in the 2014/2015 campaign, and capped that season off with a win in Sochi. Both pilots finished in the Top 3 in overall points, and either could be seen as a potential World Cup champion.

The German men will have a very familiar look to them in the coming season.  Two-man world champion Francesco Friedrich looks to defend that title alongside 2015 German Championships winner Nico Walther and Maxmilian Arndt.  Walther edged World Championships

Francesco Friedrich (GER)
Francesco Friedrich (GER)

silver medalist Johannes Lochner in German Championships to solidify his spot on the World Cup squad for this season.

Steven Holcomb had a pretty bad Achilles injury in Sochi, and the time off for rehab showed during the subsequent season.  Holcomb is now back, and with a strong team pushing behind him as he looks to lead the United States back into weekly medal contention. There’s no change for USA II or USA III, as both will be piloted again by Nick Cunningham and Codie Bascue.  Cunningham continues to be a contender, while last season was Bascue’s first full World Cup tour, look for him to improve with some added track knowledge this season.

The Canadians had a relatively tough go of it during the 2014/2015 season. Both Justin Kripps and Chris Spring expect to be contending for podium finishes week in and week out, and those finishes just didn’t come. A tougher push standard for the entire team should help find some help in the top-side speeds, as neither Kripps nor Spring struggle too much as drivers.

The British bobsled program has undergone a bit of a polishing over the summer months, and now boasts a 20+ member team, including three talented pilots.  Making a return to the ice after a couple of rough leg injuries is John Jackson.  Jackson struggled early in his last season on ice two years ago, but as he worked through injury slowly got to the point where he was within a hair of medaling in four-man. Look for a stronger-than-ever Jackson to regain ground lost over the last couple years.  He’ll start on the European Cup tour, with Lamin Deen and/or Olly Biddulph, starting the season on World Cup.

Four-Man Bobsled

Current World Cup Champion: Oskars Melbardis (LAT)
Current World Champion: Maximilian Arndt (GER)
Current Olympic Champion: Alexandr Zubkov* (RUS)

Much like in two-man competition, Oskars Melbardis won the overall World Cup points championship, but couldn’t take the World Championships from the Germans on home ice. As Melbardis looks for another solid season at the front of Latvia I, teammate Oskars Kibermanis looks to improve on a very hit-or-miss 2014/2015 campaign. Kibermanis finished tenth overall in World Cup points, and looks to emulate teammate Melbardis’s climb to the top of the World Cup standings.

Behind the big Latvians will be a very seasoned German squad looking to take over the top of the World Cup points list.  World champion Maxmilian Arndt looks to flex his muscles after scoring two gold medals during the regular season (plus the gold in Worlds), and will be joined by Francesco Friedrich and German champion Nico Walther.

Alexander Kasyanov worked hard in his 2014/2015 campaign to fill the rather large void left by Sochi Olympic champion Alexandr Zubkov, scoring three silver medals and finishing second overall in World Cup points. He will look to improve on that and find gold, with Alexey Stulnev and Nikita Zakharov joining him on the World Cup tour.

Much like in two man, Steven Holcomb had a 2014/2015 season that he’d probably rather forget, missing a podium for a full season and finishing ranked seventh overall. Coming back from an injury he worked his way through during the 2014 Olympics, Holcomb’s four-man team lacked the huge pushes that USA is accustomed to.  Now back to full strength, look for Holcomb to regain his form and be back in

Steven Holcomb (USA)
Steven Holcomb (USA)

contention week in and week out. He’ll be joined again this season by Nick Cunningham and Codie Bascue.

Justin Kripps will pilot the lone Canadian sled in four-man to start the 2015/2016 season, in part due to a lack of available push athletes meeting the Canadian push standard. After the first European swing of the season, Canada will give athletes a chance to re-push to try to get below the standard. If enough athletes are available, Chris Spring finished second in Canadian championships and would be the pilot of Canada II.

John Jackson looks to finally get back to form that had him knocking on the door of an Olympic podium two seasons ago. Great Britain struggled without the veteran pilot, but showed signs of life with Lamin Deen at the rings of the British four-man sled. Deen scored a best finish of fifth twice, one of which was at World Championships.

2015/2016 IBSF World Cup Schedule:

Race 1: Altenberg, Germany (Nov. 27 – Nov. 29)
Race 2: Winterberg, Germany (Dec. 4 – Dec. 6)
Race 3: Königssee, Germany (Dec. 11 – Dec. 13)
Race 4: Lake Placid, United States (Jan. 7 – Jan. 9)
Race 5: Park City, United States (Jan. 14 – Jan. 16)
Race 6: Whistler, Canada (Jan. 21 – Jan. 23)
Race 7: St. Moritz, Switzerland (Feb. 5 – Feb. 7)*
World Championships: Igls, Austria (Feb. 8 – Feb 21)
Race 8: Königssee, Germany (Feb. 26 – Feb. 28)
*European Championships